What happened to love? It doesn’t seem to work that well today. People fall in
love and expect to be happy but find themselves a little while later not as
excited and not as engaged. We all aspire to fall in love and stay in love. Yet
we struggle to find examples of people who’ve actually found the happiness they
seek. Sure, many married couples seem stable and comfortable. But not
necessarily that excited. Here is the reason: Love was never meant to serve as
the glue that keeps couples romantically together. Love simply is not strong
enough to do that.
Essentially, you’ve been lied to throughout your life
about relationships. Every time you saw a couple in a movie fall in love and
then, fast forward, marrying and living happily ever after, you were misled. Not
because that couple could not remain in love forever.
Of course they
could. But rather because you were not shown the practical life to which they
were reduced where passion and excitement were lost. They did not show you the
couple gradually losing the passionate adhesive that kept them longing for each
Interestingly, whereas Christianity believes that marriages should
be based on love and friendship, Judaism believes they should be based on lust
and desire. That’s why the Ten Commandments say you should not covet your
neighbor’s wife, which means by direct implication you sure as heck ought to be
coveting your own.
Covetousness in marriage is a divine
commandment. Likewise, the Song of Solomon, which the Talmud says is the
holiest book of the Torah, is about the erotic desire of a man for a woman,
something that is celebrated in Judaism.
So how did we get it so wrong?
How did love come to trump lust? Why have we, for centuries, based marriages on
the weaker link of love instead of the nuclear bond of erotic desire? To many
this would seem a crazy question. Love is everything, right? Even G-d is love?
But who said these things and why do we just take it for granted? The source for
G-d being love and for marriages being based on love rather than lust is
Christianity. Its source is not the Hebrew Bible but The New Testament: “The one
who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). It’s
repeated again a few verses later: “And we have come to know and have believed
the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love
abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16).
Judaism never posits
a G-d that is so monolithic as to be described as love. Do you really want a G-d
who is all love when it comes to punishing the Nazis for cremating children? Do
you want a G-d who is all love when it comes to stopping an al-Qaida terrorist
from planting a bomb that will blow up an airplane? Or do you want, at that
moment, a just G-d who will cause that terrorist to have a car accident on the
way to the plane so he can’t plant his bomb.
G-d is not love. Rather, He
is utterly beyond any emotion or description. At times He is loving and at times
He is jealous and punitive, as when he punishes the Egyptians at sea for
enslaving and slaughtering an innocent nation. It was Paul of Tarsus, in the New
Testament, who famously said, “Love is patient, love is kind... Love never
fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). What an excellent description of the virtue of
love – and its limitations! This is the perfect description of love as
companionship and friendship. And if anyone wants to have a romantic
relationship based on these warm and cuddly attributes, that’s fine. But while
love is warm, lust is passionate. While love seeks to share, lust seeks to
acquire. While love can be satisfied, lust is utterly insatiable. The average
wife today may feel loved. But what she really wants is to feel desired, which
explains why women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey in their millions. Wives
want the erotic experience of lust but they’re mostly not finding it in their
While Christianity posits love as the foundation of a
relationship, Judaism has always emphasized desire in its place. The principal
reason for the breakdown of marriages and relationships is that in modern times
they are built not on lust but love. Several times a week I counsel couples in
crisis. They come with the usual panoply of issues that surround broken
marriages: an absence of communication, lack of intimacy, fighting below the
belt, financial pressures, and responsibilities of child-rearing that have
overtaken their lives. But underlying all these problems is the elephant in the
room: a loss of desire. They love each other, but they no longer long for each
other. Their marriages are now built on the softer, more comfortable emotion of
love rather than passionate, more explosive and nuclear bond of lust.
is lust disappearing? There are many reasons. First, we are such a physical and
material generation that we don’t understand lust. So we denigrate it as
something sleazy. Lust, we think, is something pornographic.
Lust is what
a man feels for a colleague at work, while love is what he feels for his wife.
Lust is what a wife experiences for a stranger with whom she flirts while love
is what she feels when has dinner with her husband at a restaurant. Lust has
been lost from our lives because we think it something of the body rather than
of the soul, something generated by hormones rather than a spiritual energy. A
visceral emotion demonstrating more our kinship with animals than anything
And because we don’t understand lust we have never
focused on understanding its rules and the conditions through which it is
maintained. Also, we believe love to be eternal while lust is so utterly
ephemeral. We de-emphasize lust in relationships because we believe it’s bound
to disappoint us and let us down. We don’t believe that lust can be sustained.
It is a flimsy foundation upon which to build a relationship and should be made
secondary to the solid firmament of love.
But who said that love and lust
can’t be maintained simultaneously? Are we really so monolithic as to be
incapable of sustaining two emotions at once? Can husbands and wives really not
be both lovers (lust) and best friends (love) at the same time? And isn’t that,
the confluence of both, what men and women most aspire to in their
The writer is the international best-selling author of 29 books,
and is currently writing a new book on relationships entitled Kosher
Lust. Next month he will publish The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God
in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.